Jessica E. Wragg

Category: Poetry

Upon my body.

Take me in your hands of sugar
and kiss the tepid light, sweet
to the tongue and rhythmic on my tastebuds
like a samba dance.
Read my laughter lines and my love
lines and then tell me I’m going to die.
My life line disappears, somewhere
around my thumb.
Tell me honestly if I am sunburnt,
and I’ll let you know if I think that
you spend too much money on jeans
and beer and fast food. Peel back
the dead skin, make way for new life
upon my ankles.
Heal the scar on my kneecap with
your mouth, leave a kiss print in spit
on the joint.
My lips are dry.
My skin has stubble.
My nails are bitten.
My hands are rough, but with you
they glide softly across your back.



I wrote this piece as part of a larger project, imagining the origins of London and some of the world’s other biggest cities and the effect that human emotion could have taken on it. The environment and its decline, to me, is one of the biggest issues facing our civilisation at the moment in time, and it’s influenced a lot of my writing recently. 


There is an ocean, which laps at my shoulders
softly. Prodding me, sending foam sailing across
my skin with every wave. Dull green weeds clamour
the base of my neck like a crowd at the gates.

Forcefully treading water, gently paddling the surface
for four feet deep in ten, my toes curled so as to
not catch the snuggle-tooth coral below, or perhaps the church
spire pushed from the sand like straight, proud shoulders.

And yet, for all the salt, I still taste the dead city.
The sea took it, replaced it with nothing, built water
on its rooftops, covered its head with a bed of sand hidden
between the kelp that travelled here by accident on a current.

The smell is not salt water and plastic and scum it is
saffron, jasmine, myrrh floating through the water on
a bubble of air from the deep. With every shift of
earth comes the perfume of a lost civilisation.

There is an ocean, which laps at my shoulders,
whispering a secret that I already knew. The stories
of children climbing buildings to escape the water,
their fingers scrambling on smooth marble to get higher.

Of the elderly women, so taken by the flood that they
took cups from their kitchens, scooped them up in their hands
and tried to drink it away, expectant and wrinkled fingers
grasping at the china, realising when it was too late.

It did not take minutes for the water to rise, it took
weeks, months – so long that the King himself
did not see it until he got out of bed one morning to find
his slippers not where he left them, but floating by his dresser.

Thin like matchsticks, thick like fists, buildings toppled down
like pins against a giant ball. My father told me the stories whilst
my mother hushed him through the violence. I came here first
looking for survivors but found only schools of fish. My brother

had told me that they were the people – turned into creatures
by the Gods for disobeying them but I know that they are just fish.
I know the stories too well; of a city up in flames, rotting from
the inside outwards, crumbling slowly into pieces like Sodom.

I know the stories of a city which did not see the flood until the
King had lost his rabbit fur slippers. I sometimes see them
on the horizon, still floating on the surface,
heading out in search of a new pair of feet to keep warm.

Not so much

Not so much going, but fleeing.

Arms, wild and frantic; hands,
gripped around my wrist;
tongue, a thick muscle, vibrating
from your screams above the
crackling and spitting and hissing
of the flame.

Not so much quiet, but silence.

Your vacant suit, hanging limp
from the wardrobe, clinging
to the wire hanger; all frayed
cotton and your gold and green
cuff links still attached. You looked
smarter in the box.

Not so much smell, but a fragrance.

Your pillow, like hair and sleep
and drool. Unwashed pajamas and
crumbs from our breakfast.
A plate on the table, and your half
finished can on the floor.
Your side; covers thrown back.

Not so much shouting, more shrieking.

Lit up in orange, your hair went
first. I laughed when I saw you, bald
and pale. They did their best,
made you up well – the burns are
noticeable, only to me. You couldn’t
stand the pain of it.

Not so much lonely, but alone.

Soft lines of our floorboards,
waiting for their creak; caramel and
chocolates, ten cups of tea, the
pleasure of dinner alone. My food,
not yours. A terrible longing;
no one to sleep with.

Not so much forgetting, more ignoring.

Taking down your photos, waiting
for you coming home. The six o’clock
bus, heels on the pavement, the
phone with your mother. Your key,
the click of a door, a gush of cold air.
Waiting for nothing.

Not so much broken, more cracked.


Your Vase on my Mantlepiece

Thin like toothpicks
Thick like fists

You came from fire,
“Time are changing.”
A baby, staring up at a cotton
canopy, the centre of everything,
the beginning
of nothing. The ceaseless
stars of lightbulbs, leaves
of stitching and wood and

unforgiving photographs.
You smashed pottery on the ground,
smiling as it fell
to pieces before it landed.
You ground it by hand like
spices in a pestle. To dust.
It was so easy.

You never mentioned it again.
You would do the same
with wood if you could but
you say you can’t because of

After 10 years of waiting
you scatter it like ashes and
make me pick it up again
piece by piece until I have
something that looks like
it could have been
might have been a vase.

The colour red, a kiss on
my hair; two cups of tea, a new
pair of jeans, a terrible
finding someone with my
birthday; scraping hair from
my carpet, wood
like chocolate, smooth lines
straight lines, blood from a
cut; letterpress greeting
cards, my new
winter coat.

Your vase on my mantelpiece.
I take it down during storms.